Press Release

Surrey-built PICOSat launched for US Air Force

By SpaceRef Editor
October 1, 2001
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PICOSat, a 67kg microsatellite developed for the US Air Force (USAF) Space Test Program (STP) by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) in the UK, was launched successfully from Alaska on 30th September.

The PICOSat mission is demonstrating the viability of utilizing a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) spacecraft platform to provide cost-effective and timely space flights for Department of Defense (DoD) experiments. This is the first time that the DoD has purchased an ëoff-the-shelf’ microsatellite, which has been tailored by SSTL to carry four experimental payloads for the US Government. It is also the first time that the STP has purchased a spacecraft outside of the United States.

The US DoD’s objective is to achieve faster mission response and turnaround, cheaper life-cycle mission costs and more streamline programme execution. SSTL has a flight proven heritage of 17 microsatellite missions launched since 1981 and a mission philosophy of ìlow cost, rapid access to space, with a high degree of flexibility while minimizing risksî. Each SSTL mission is typically accomplished within 12-18 months from contract signing to flight readiness. Turn-key missions allow customers to benefit from the Company’s proven modular satellite platform, highly automated Mission Control Centre in Guildford (UK) and streamlined mission operations.

SSTL has provided the PICOSat Mission Team with an off-the-shelf, cost effective satellite platform, with minimal modification and significant spaceflight heritage in order to drive down costs and drive up likelihood of mission success. Professor Martin Sweeting, CEO at SSTL said: ìWe were delighted to be chosen by the USAF Space Test Program to build a small, but advanced, microsatellite to carry four experimental-technology payloads into space. SSTL has delivered a capable, yet low cost spacecraft, that meets the needs of the USAF Space Test Program on time and within budget. PICOSat demonstrates the flexibility, versatility and capability of our microsatellite design.î

PICOSat marks the 20th small satellite launch for SSTL in 20 years and more than 150 orbit-years of satellite operations. ìFollowing yesterday’s successful launch and with commissioning under way in orbitî, said Sweeting, ìwe look forward to continuing and further developing our relationship with the US Air Force. Since the commencement of the PICOSat contract, SSTL have launched a further two 50kg microsatellites, a 320kg minisatellite and 6.5kg nanosatellite. Two nanosatellite assemblies have also been delivered to the US Air Force European Organisation for Aerospace Research & Development (EOARD). Our research and development programmes continue with interplanetary and geostationary missions already on the design boards ñ all designed within our philosophy of ìlow cost, rapid access to spaceî.

Onboard PICOSat are four experimental payloads:

*       Polymer Battery Experiment (PBex) ñ a plastic battery technology demonstration (sponsored by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)

*       Ionospheric Occultation Experiment (IOX) ñ horizontal electron density mapping of the ionosphere (sponsored by the USAF and The Aerospace Corporation)

*       Coherent Electromagnetic Radio Tomography (CERTO) ñ vertical electron density mapping of the ionosphere sponsored by the Naval Research Laboratory)

*       Optical Precision Platform Experiment (OPPEX) ñ anti-vibration platform demonstration (sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory)

The selection of these payloads promises a significant scientific return whilst entailing a major programmatic and engineering challenge for the PICOSat mission team.

Lt Col Ballard from the USAF said: ìThe launch into a 800km orbit was carried out by an Athena launch vehicle from Kodiak Island at 02:40 UTC ñ only the second orbital launch from this site.î

A joint Surrey / US Air Force Academy (USAFA) team in Colorado Springs have reported the successful command and activitation of PICOSat in-orbit. The satellite downlink was activated during the first pass over the USAFA following launch and all telemetry indications are healthy. The loading of flight software into the on-board computer and attitude dynamics detumbling operations have proceeded well. Housekeeping data downloaded has confirmed that the spacecraft is operating normally.

Notes for Editors

Space Test Program (STP) is an organization with more than 30 years experience in flying experiments in space. Originally charted by the Secretary of Defense in 1965 and revalidated in 1995, the STP is charged with flying as many DoD experiments from a yearly, prioritized list, as possible within a limited budget. STP is effectively a ìspace access clearing houseî for DoD experiments that require spaceflight in order to prove a concept or demonstrate a capability that is of significant benefit to the US DoD.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) established a programme in 1989 called the Foreign Comparative Test Office, or FCT. The DoD FCT programme provides funding to test and evaluate non-developmental items developed by US allies to determine if those items can satisfy DoD mission requirements. The FCT programme played a vital role in the PICOSat mission by providing a significant portion of the mission’s funding to test a commercially available microsatellite. STP manages the mission in accordance with their programme management directive.

Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) is a world leader in small satellite technology, employing 130 staff at their purpose-built facilities at the Surrey Space Centre, Guildford, UK. Over the last 20 years, SSTL has been responsible for 20 small satellite missions in low Earth orbit, each carrying a wide range of satellite communications, space science, remote sensing and in-orbit technology demonstration payloads for both civil and military applications. SSTL is also the only non-US supplier for micro- nano- and minisatellite platforms for NASA’s Rapid II Spacecraft Acquisition contracts.


Miss Audrey Nice
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd
01483 879278

SpaceRef staff editor.